Horror movies are like fables. The characters are rarely three-dimensional, and the plotlines are hardly what most people would call overly complex. Instead, caricatures and stereotypes run around doing stupid things so that the audience can draw a moral conclusion from the bloody ramifications of their sinful ways.
This isn’t a critique, mind you. It’s fun to feel superior to the people you’re watching on television—I suppose that’s why so many people enjoy watching reality television. Of course, horror is infinitely more satisfying, because those annoying people on Survivor get rewarded for being annoying, whereas my irritatingly dense people get eaten for their stupidity. All I’m really saying is, I think horror movies should come with a moral, like those one-liners they attach to the end of fables, or the little rhyming poems that Charles Perrault would add-on to his fairy tales. In fact, I’ve written one for The Howling, after watching it a few days ago. I think it sums the movie up nicely:
Child, take this lesson to your heart:
the days are sometimes long and dark,
when yesterday is all you see,
you might not know what to believe.
And when your doctor suggests a spot
To eradicate your darker thoughts,
and says, “Join me here, in The Colony far from man,”
say back to him, “Fuck you, I’m going to Hawaii.”
I’m saying, you just don’t see a lot of gruesome werewolf deaths in Hawaii.
For the life of me, I’m having the hardest time reviewing this damn movie. The problem is: I don’t know how I feel about The Howling. It wasn’t a bad movie. I didn’t love it. There were some clever elements to the story, and I really enjoyed the ending. But mostly I was just sort of . . . disengaged, I guess . . . and I’m not entirely sure who to blame for that. Let’s try to find a culprit, shall we?
Here’s the basic plotline: Karen is an anchorwoman being stalked by this dude, Eddie, who murders women and disfigures the bodies to make their deaths look like an animal killing. Karen helps assist in the police in a sting operation to catch him, but things don’t go so well, and while she lives, we’re talking some serious amnesia/post traumatic stress here. To recover, her therapist suggests that she go to this community he runs out in the middle of fucking nowhere called The Colony. (It’s part spa, part country club, part Deliverance woods, and part insane asylum.) Karen goes and takes her husband, Bill The Moustache, with her. But things aren’t so relaxing there, either, not with the cattle mutilations, strange howling, and the creepy nymphomaniacal chick hitting on her man. Oh, and Eddie’s body goes missing, but that’s probably not too important.
So, what did I like about it? Well, I can tell you: it probably wasn’t the acting. I feel like I hone in on that particular aspect too much sometimes, but Dee Wallace as Karen got on my damn nerves most of the time. Bill the Moustache certainly did, although I had a hard time figuring him out. Was he supposed to come off as a skeeze? Was I supposed to feel sympathy for him? If that was the case, it didn’t pan out, and I think it might have been a stronger movie if it had. The only person I really liked at all was Karen’s friend, Terry, and I still wanted to slap the bitch when she decided to go off running around the woods by herself. Really, you think there are werewolves possibly running around killing people, werewolves who don’t need the full moon to transform into the beast, and you’re just strolling through a dense pack of trees, like la-de-dah, I hope I don’t die? To her credit, she was less annoying than Karen. What is it about main characters always being the most irritating people in horror movies? Actually, that rule applies to most television shows, too. Am I the only person who generally prefers the supporting cast to the main lead?
Anyway, the switch-up on the werewolf mythology made the movie pretty interesting (at least, considering this was in the early 80’s and werewolves were pretty strictly full moon beasts then, weren’t they?) and I adored all the nods and inside jokes to the genre: a copy of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl, for instance, or The Big Bad Wolf on the television screen. Minor characters like the Most Insensitive Boss In the World and Creepy Bookstore Owner were a lot of fun. The special effects weren’t bad, not for the 1980’s . . .anyway, they were better than Buffy’s strange ape like werewolves (I think those are going down as my least favorite werewolf representations, ever), but the movie itself? Until the ending, I just didn’t really care. And I did like the ending, but was it enough to really involve me in the movie? I don’t think so. I’m not sure.
The rest of this review has spoilers, so if you’ve seen The Howling or don’t care if you know what happens, press onward.
Okay, so ending. First, Bill the Moustache is killed! Yay! Second, so is Heroine Karen! Double yay! Bill gets infected and later bites Karen. Karen decides that the werewolf secret needs to be exposed to the world, so she transforms into a werewolf on her news show and Chris, a friend, kills her. Try explaining that one to the cops.
First: I think it’s cool that Karen sacrifices herself for the greater good, only for it to be heavily implied that most people aren’t going to believe her, cause werewolves aren’t real, but special effects? They can do anything. More importantly, though, I really love that Chris, the male friend, lives. The hero and heroine get it. The chick best friend gets it. But the chick best friend’s boyfriend lives to be the last man standing (well, last important man, anyway) which, let’s face it, is pretty rare. Chris is a godamned survivor. I heartily approve.
This movie’s got some originality; I’ll give it that. The whole Colony deal, with the head shrink trying to slowly ease his werewolves into the human population by doing this whole beast within you crap gives the movie a whole layering that most werewolf movies don’t have. (Of course, I might like this better if the actor didn’t remind me a little of Patrick Bachau from The Pretender, who would nod solemnly while ponderously saying obvious things like, “Jarrod is trying to tell me something.” Like, can’t you get eaten yet? You’re obviously not going to make it.) But ultimately, I find most of the characters annoying, the acting bad, and the pacing slow. It gets a solid B, which isn’t a bad grade, but I’m certainly not going to rush out and buy it, and An American Werewolf In London stands strong for favorite werewolf movie of all time with Ginger Snaps right behind.